Eat Well

Meet Chef Nicolás

Author:

Author:

Author:

Araminta David, RN, BSN

Published:

Published:

Published:

June 11, 2024

Medical review:

Medical review:

Medical review:

Stephanie Brown, MS, RD, LD

At Season Health, we collaborate with chefs from communities that mirror the diversity of our patients. By offering meal plans that feature familiar dishes made with accessible, culturally-relevant ingredients, we make healthy eating both practical and appealing.

Our Culinary Council is made up of chefs representing the cuisines of the African American, Native American, Mexican, and other Latin American communities. With the expertise of these chefs, we dive deep into the history, techniques, ingredients, and quintessential dishes that define these cuisines to inspire recipes that are as authentic as possible while still aligning with Season’s nutrition, cost, and easy recipe goals.

We recently sat down with Culinary Council member Nicolás A. Ugaz-Valencia. Chef Nicolás brings a deep passion for the cuisines of Latin America and his family home of Peru. We talked about how he uses healthy ingredients to transform traditional dishes, making them both nutritious and delicious.

When did you know you wanted to become a chef and what sparked that interest?

My father sparked my interest in becoming a chef. He always cooked for our family and was a chef at the mine where he used to work. Cooking was one of his love languages, and it’s one of mine as well. So that’s really what inspired me to start cooking and feeding my loved ones.

Can you share your background and journey in becoming an expert in Latin American cuisines?

I was raised in Union City, New Jersey, which is a melting pot for a lot of Latin American countries. I grew up eating foods from countries all over Latin America, including Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. And when you have a taste for this food, you really can’t go back. I started studying and watching videos of chefs from all over. There are certain dishes that every country has, but each has a different spin to it. That’s what I really love about Latin America: there is a lot of sharing and borrowing of dishes.

How do you adapt traditional recipes to accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions while preserving authenticity?

I have been vegan or vegetarian for a total of ten years now. Meat and dairy are really popular in Peruvian cooking, so it was definitely a tough task to start cooking for myself without these ingredients that are so vital to the cuisine in my country. But I wanted to stick to the culture, so through ideation and research, I was able to substitute some of these ingredients with alternative proteins and dairy products. This allowed me to stay true to the traditional cuisine and flavors.

I also started a blog and an Instagram account called @plant_based_inca, where I shared my vegan food and recipes. It quickly got traction and I received a lot of feedback from Peruvian people around the world who were trying to go plant-based and be healthier while eating Peruvian food. It was really nice and exciting to make an impact with my experience and the dishes I was creating, and I still continue to do it.

Are there any traditional or regional dishes that you're particularly passionate about preserving or reinventing?

I’m interested in preserving traditional Peruvian cuisine; if you ask any Peruvian, a big part of their identity is definitely food. A really famous regional dish is called Tallarines Verdes (Green Spaghetti), which is similar to a pesto sauce with spaghetti, and usually there is a steak on top. We can make this plant-based or just generally healthier. The sauce usually contains evaporated milk and a block of queso fresco, which is a mature cheese. Through some recipe ideas, I was able to swap the cheese for tofu, taking away the high-fat content and replacing it with a protein, and then using plant-based milk. It maintained its flavors so it still tasted amazing, but with a healthier kick. Then, I replaced the steak with a seitan steak. Seitan is a vital wheat protein that can be used as a meat substitute, and I make that from scratch as well.

Do you have any tips for home cooks looking to cook nutritious meals while still keeping within the comforts of these familiar foods?

The most important thing is studying the ingredients that are going into the recipe. Then, you can consider which ingredient is the highest calorie item, which has the highest fat content, for example, and learn which alternatives are lower in calories or have a higher nutritional value. I think it’s important to push yourself and try these different ingredients that might be good replacements. That can take time to get used to, but as you start testing new things, you’ll be surprised at what you can make and how good it tastes.

The other important tip is understanding portions. In Latin American cooking, the portions are generally very large. Growing up with Peruvian cooking, you’d have this large plate of rice, potatoes, and spaghetti – you’re eating a lot. But when I started seeing a nutritionist, they showed me what proper plates should look like. That was a helpful tool to manage what I’m putting on my plate and lowering my caloric intake. It’s still a process for me, but I encourage you to understand your portioning and what you’re putting on your plate. Then you can start to balance with vegetables, leafy greens, carbs, healthy fats, etc. It’s always good to experiment.

At Season Health, we collaborate with chefs from communities that mirror the diversity of our patients. By offering meal plans that feature familiar dishes made with accessible, culturally-relevant ingredients, we make healthy eating both practical and appealing.

Our Culinary Council is made up of chefs representing the cuisines of the African American, Native American, Mexican, and other Latin American communities. With the expertise of these chefs, we dive deep into the history, techniques, ingredients, and quintessential dishes that define these cuisines to inspire recipes that are as authentic as possible while still aligning with Season’s nutrition, cost, and easy recipe goals.

We recently sat down with Culinary Council member Nicolás A. Ugaz-Valencia. Chef Nicolás brings a deep passion for the cuisines of Latin America and his family home of Peru. We talked about how he uses healthy ingredients to transform traditional dishes, making them both nutritious and delicious.

When did you know you wanted to become a chef and what sparked that interest?

My father sparked my interest in becoming a chef. He always cooked for our family and was a chef at the mine where he used to work. Cooking was one of his love languages, and it’s one of mine as well. So that’s really what inspired me to start cooking and feeding my loved ones.

Can you share your background and journey in becoming an expert in Latin American cuisines?

I was raised in Union City, New Jersey, which is a melting pot for a lot of Latin American countries. I grew up eating foods from countries all over Latin America, including Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. And when you have a taste for this food, you really can’t go back. I started studying and watching videos of chefs from all over. There are certain dishes that every country has, but each has a different spin to it. That’s what I really love about Latin America: there is a lot of sharing and borrowing of dishes.

How do you adapt traditional recipes to accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions while preserving authenticity?

I have been vegan or vegetarian for a total of ten years now. Meat and dairy are really popular in Peruvian cooking, so it was definitely a tough task to start cooking for myself without these ingredients that are so vital to the cuisine in my country. But I wanted to stick to the culture, so through ideation and research, I was able to substitute some of these ingredients with alternative proteins and dairy products. This allowed me to stay true to the traditional cuisine and flavors.

I also started a blog and an Instagram account called @plant_based_inca, where I shared my vegan food and recipes. It quickly got traction and I received a lot of feedback from Peruvian people around the world who were trying to go plant-based and be healthier while eating Peruvian food. It was really nice and exciting to make an impact with my experience and the dishes I was creating, and I still continue to do it.

Are there any traditional or regional dishes that you're particularly passionate about preserving or reinventing?

I’m interested in preserving traditional Peruvian cuisine; if you ask any Peruvian, a big part of their identity is definitely food. A really famous regional dish is called Tallarines Verdes (Green Spaghetti), which is similar to a pesto sauce with spaghetti, and usually there is a steak on top. We can make this plant-based or just generally healthier. The sauce usually contains evaporated milk and a block of queso fresco, which is a mature cheese. Through some recipe ideas, I was able to swap the cheese for tofu, taking away the high-fat content and replacing it with a protein, and then using plant-based milk. It maintained its flavors so it still tasted amazing, but with a healthier kick. Then, I replaced the steak with a seitan steak. Seitan is a vital wheat protein that can be used as a meat substitute, and I make that from scratch as well.

Do you have any tips for home cooks looking to cook nutritious meals while still keeping within the comforts of these familiar foods?

The most important thing is studying the ingredients that are going into the recipe. Then, you can consider which ingredient is the highest calorie item, which has the highest fat content, for example, and learn which alternatives are lower in calories or have a higher nutritional value. I think it’s important to push yourself and try these different ingredients that might be good replacements. That can take time to get used to, but as you start testing new things, you’ll be surprised at what you can make and how good it tastes.

The other important tip is understanding portions. In Latin American cooking, the portions are generally very large. Growing up with Peruvian cooking, you’d have this large plate of rice, potatoes, and spaghetti – you’re eating a lot. But when I started seeing a nutritionist, they showed me what proper plates should look like. That was a helpful tool to manage what I’m putting on my plate and lowering my caloric intake. It’s still a process for me, but I encourage you to understand your portioning and what you’re putting on your plate. Then you can start to balance with vegetables, leafy greens, carbs, healthy fats, etc. It’s always good to experiment.

At Season Health, we collaborate with chefs from communities that mirror the diversity of our patients. By offering meal plans that feature familiar dishes made with accessible, culturally-relevant ingredients, we make healthy eating both practical and appealing.

Our Culinary Council is made up of chefs representing the cuisines of the African American, Native American, Mexican, and other Latin American communities. With the expertise of these chefs, we dive deep into the history, techniques, ingredients, and quintessential dishes that define these cuisines to inspire recipes that are as authentic as possible while still aligning with Season’s nutrition, cost, and easy recipe goals.

We recently sat down with Culinary Council member Nicolás A. Ugaz-Valencia. Chef Nicolás brings a deep passion for the cuisines of Latin America and his family home of Peru. We talked about how he uses healthy ingredients to transform traditional dishes, making them both nutritious and delicious.

When did you know you wanted to become a chef and what sparked that interest?

My father sparked my interest in becoming a chef. He always cooked for our family and was a chef at the mine where he used to work. Cooking was one of his love languages, and it’s one of mine as well. So that’s really what inspired me to start cooking and feeding my loved ones.

Can you share your background and journey in becoming an expert in Latin American cuisines?

I was raised in Union City, New Jersey, which is a melting pot for a lot of Latin American countries. I grew up eating foods from countries all over Latin America, including Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. And when you have a taste for this food, you really can’t go back. I started studying and watching videos of chefs from all over. There are certain dishes that every country has, but each has a different spin to it. That’s what I really love about Latin America: there is a lot of sharing and borrowing of dishes.

How do you adapt traditional recipes to accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions while preserving authenticity?

I have been vegan or vegetarian for a total of ten years now. Meat and dairy are really popular in Peruvian cooking, so it was definitely a tough task to start cooking for myself without these ingredients that are so vital to the cuisine in my country. But I wanted to stick to the culture, so through ideation and research, I was able to substitute some of these ingredients with alternative proteins and dairy products. This allowed me to stay true to the traditional cuisine and flavors.

I also started a blog and an Instagram account called @plant_based_inca, where I shared my vegan food and recipes. It quickly got traction and I received a lot of feedback from Peruvian people around the world who were trying to go plant-based and be healthier while eating Peruvian food. It was really nice and exciting to make an impact with my experience and the dishes I was creating, and I still continue to do it.

Are there any traditional or regional dishes that you're particularly passionate about preserving or reinventing?

I’m interested in preserving traditional Peruvian cuisine; if you ask any Peruvian, a big part of their identity is definitely food. A really famous regional dish is called Tallarines Verdes (Green Spaghetti), which is similar to a pesto sauce with spaghetti, and usually there is a steak on top. We can make this plant-based or just generally healthier. The sauce usually contains evaporated milk and a block of queso fresco, which is a mature cheese. Through some recipe ideas, I was able to swap the cheese for tofu, taking away the high-fat content and replacing it with a protein, and then using plant-based milk. It maintained its flavors so it still tasted amazing, but with a healthier kick. Then, I replaced the steak with a seitan steak. Seitan is a vital wheat protein that can be used as a meat substitute, and I make that from scratch as well.

Do you have any tips for home cooks looking to cook nutritious meals while still keeping within the comforts of these familiar foods?

The most important thing is studying the ingredients that are going into the recipe. Then, you can consider which ingredient is the highest calorie item, which has the highest fat content, for example, and learn which alternatives are lower in calories or have a higher nutritional value. I think it’s important to push yourself and try these different ingredients that might be good replacements. That can take time to get used to, but as you start testing new things, you’ll be surprised at what you can make and how good it tastes.

The other important tip is understanding portions. In Latin American cooking, the portions are generally very large. Growing up with Peruvian cooking, you’d have this large plate of rice, potatoes, and spaghetti – you’re eating a lot. But when I started seeing a nutritionist, they showed me what proper plates should look like. That was a helpful tool to manage what I’m putting on my plate and lowering my caloric intake. It’s still a process for me, but I encourage you to understand your portioning and what you’re putting on your plate. Then you can start to balance with vegetables, leafy greens, carbs, healthy fats, etc. It’s always good to experiment.

At Season Health, we collaborate with chefs from communities that mirror the diversity of our patients. By offering meal plans that feature familiar dishes made with accessible, culturally-relevant ingredients, we make healthy eating both practical and appealing.

Our Culinary Council is made up of chefs representing the cuisines of the African American, Native American, Mexican, and other Latin American communities. With the expertise of these chefs, we dive deep into the history, techniques, ingredients, and quintessential dishes that define these cuisines to inspire recipes that are as authentic as possible while still aligning with Season’s nutrition, cost, and easy recipe goals.

We recently sat down with Culinary Council member Nicolás A. Ugaz-Valencia. Chef Nicolás brings a deep passion for the cuisines of Latin America and his family home of Peru. We talked about how he uses healthy ingredients to transform traditional dishes, making them both nutritious and delicious.

When did you know you wanted to become a chef and what sparked that interest?

My father sparked my interest in becoming a chef. He always cooked for our family and was a chef at the mine where he used to work. Cooking was one of his love languages, and it’s one of mine as well. So that’s really what inspired me to start cooking and feeding my loved ones.

Can you share your background and journey in becoming an expert in Latin American cuisines?

I was raised in Union City, New Jersey, which is a melting pot for a lot of Latin American countries. I grew up eating foods from countries all over Latin America, including Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. And when you have a taste for this food, you really can’t go back. I started studying and watching videos of chefs from all over. There are certain dishes that every country has, but each has a different spin to it. That’s what I really love about Latin America: there is a lot of sharing and borrowing of dishes.

How do you adapt traditional recipes to accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions while preserving authenticity?

I have been vegan or vegetarian for a total of ten years now. Meat and dairy are really popular in Peruvian cooking, so it was definitely a tough task to start cooking for myself without these ingredients that are so vital to the cuisine in my country. But I wanted to stick to the culture, so through ideation and research, I was able to substitute some of these ingredients with alternative proteins and dairy products. This allowed me to stay true to the traditional cuisine and flavors.

I also started a blog and an Instagram account called @plant_based_inca, where I shared my vegan food and recipes. It quickly got traction and I received a lot of feedback from Peruvian people around the world who were trying to go plant-based and be healthier while eating Peruvian food. It was really nice and exciting to make an impact with my experience and the dishes I was creating, and I still continue to do it.

Are there any traditional or regional dishes that you're particularly passionate about preserving or reinventing?

I’m interested in preserving traditional Peruvian cuisine; if you ask any Peruvian, a big part of their identity is definitely food. A really famous regional dish is called Tallarines Verdes (Green Spaghetti), which is similar to a pesto sauce with spaghetti, and usually there is a steak on top. We can make this plant-based or just generally healthier. The sauce usually contains evaporated milk and a block of queso fresco, which is a mature cheese. Through some recipe ideas, I was able to swap the cheese for tofu, taking away the high-fat content and replacing it with a protein, and then using plant-based milk. It maintained its flavors so it still tasted amazing, but with a healthier kick. Then, I replaced the steak with a seitan steak. Seitan is a vital wheat protein that can be used as a meat substitute, and I make that from scratch as well.

Do you have any tips for home cooks looking to cook nutritious meals while still keeping within the comforts of these familiar foods?

The most important thing is studying the ingredients that are going into the recipe. Then, you can consider which ingredient is the highest calorie item, which has the highest fat content, for example, and learn which alternatives are lower in calories or have a higher nutritional value. I think it’s important to push yourself and try these different ingredients that might be good replacements. That can take time to get used to, but as you start testing new things, you’ll be surprised at what you can make and how good it tastes.

The other important tip is understanding portions. In Latin American cooking, the portions are generally very large. Growing up with Peruvian cooking, you’d have this large plate of rice, potatoes, and spaghetti – you’re eating a lot. But when I started seeing a nutritionist, they showed me what proper plates should look like. That was a helpful tool to manage what I’m putting on my plate and lowering my caloric intake. It’s still a process for me, but I encourage you to understand your portioning and what you’re putting on your plate. Then you can start to balance with vegetables, leafy greens, carbs, healthy fats, etc. It’s always good to experiment.

At Season Health, we collaborate with chefs from communities that mirror the diversity of our patients. By offering meal plans that feature familiar dishes made with accessible, culturally-relevant ingredients, we make healthy eating both practical and appealing.

Our Culinary Council is made up of chefs representing the cuisines of the African American, Native American, Mexican, and other Latin American communities. With the expertise of these chefs, we dive deep into the history, techniques, ingredients, and quintessential dishes that define these cuisines to inspire recipes that are as authentic as possible while still aligning with Season’s nutrition, cost, and easy recipe goals.

We recently sat down with Culinary Council member Nicolás A. Ugaz-Valencia. Chef Nicolás brings a deep passion for the cuisines of Latin America and his family home of Peru. We talked about how he uses healthy ingredients to transform traditional dishes, making them both nutritious and delicious.

When did you know you wanted to become a chef and what sparked that interest?

My father sparked my interest in becoming a chef. He always cooked for our family and was a chef at the mine where he used to work. Cooking was one of his love languages, and it’s one of mine as well. So that’s really what inspired me to start cooking and feeding my loved ones.

Can you share your background and journey in becoming an expert in Latin American cuisines?

I was raised in Union City, New Jersey, which is a melting pot for a lot of Latin American countries. I grew up eating foods from countries all over Latin America, including Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. And when you have a taste for this food, you really can’t go back. I started studying and watching videos of chefs from all over. There are certain dishes that every country has, but each has a different spin to it. That’s what I really love about Latin America: there is a lot of sharing and borrowing of dishes.

How do you adapt traditional recipes to accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions while preserving authenticity?

I have been vegan or vegetarian for a total of ten years now. Meat and dairy are really popular in Peruvian cooking, so it was definitely a tough task to start cooking for myself without these ingredients that are so vital to the cuisine in my country. But I wanted to stick to the culture, so through ideation and research, I was able to substitute some of these ingredients with alternative proteins and dairy products. This allowed me to stay true to the traditional cuisine and flavors.

I also started a blog and an Instagram account called @plant_based_inca, where I shared my vegan food and recipes. It quickly got traction and I received a lot of feedback from Peruvian people around the world who were trying to go plant-based and be healthier while eating Peruvian food. It was really nice and exciting to make an impact with my experience and the dishes I was creating, and I still continue to do it.

Are there any traditional or regional dishes that you're particularly passionate about preserving or reinventing?

I’m interested in preserving traditional Peruvian cuisine; if you ask any Peruvian, a big part of their identity is definitely food. A really famous regional dish is called Tallarines Verdes (Green Spaghetti), which is similar to a pesto sauce with spaghetti, and usually there is a steak on top. We can make this plant-based or just generally healthier. The sauce usually contains evaporated milk and a block of queso fresco, which is a mature cheese. Through some recipe ideas, I was able to swap the cheese for tofu, taking away the high-fat content and replacing it with a protein, and then using plant-based milk. It maintained its flavors so it still tasted amazing, but with a healthier kick. Then, I replaced the steak with a seitan steak. Seitan is a vital wheat protein that can be used as a meat substitute, and I make that from scratch as well.

Do you have any tips for home cooks looking to cook nutritious meals while still keeping within the comforts of these familiar foods?

The most important thing is studying the ingredients that are going into the recipe. Then, you can consider which ingredient is the highest calorie item, which has the highest fat content, for example, and learn which alternatives are lower in calories or have a higher nutritional value. I think it’s important to push yourself and try these different ingredients that might be good replacements. That can take time to get used to, but as you start testing new things, you’ll be surprised at what you can make and how good it tastes.

The other important tip is understanding portions. In Latin American cooking, the portions are generally very large. Growing up with Peruvian cooking, you’d have this large plate of rice, potatoes, and spaghetti – you’re eating a lot. But when I started seeing a nutritionist, they showed me what proper plates should look like. That was a helpful tool to manage what I’m putting on my plate and lowering my caloric intake. It’s still a process for me, but I encourage you to understand your portioning and what you’re putting on your plate. Then you can start to balance with vegetables, leafy greens, carbs, healthy fats, etc. It’s always good to experiment.

An interview with Culinary Council member Nicolás A. Ugaz-Valencia

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